Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Prosecutor presents legal hearsay in sexual abuse case

Waco – An 8-man, 4-woman jury reacted alternately with disgust, then incredulity as they listened to hearsay testimony from a therapist who described the effects of repeated sexual molestation on a 6th grade student who was allegedly assaulted by his female teacher in 2007.

19th District Judge Ralph T. Strother ruled the testimony from Licensed Social Worker Elizzabeth Timmons admissible under new rules of criminal evidence based on recent case law. A proven expert witness who treated the boy in 2010 for depression and post traumatic stress disorder, Ms. Timmons said the effect of the experience rendered his affect unacceptable to complete school work or live normally, even while being home schooled.

In response to direct examination by lead prosecutor Lisa Hoing, Ms. Timmons told the Court that the effects of the sexual abuse that she observed in her treatment of the victim matched the allegations of complaint he related to her.

Children who have been abused by an adult – particularly an authority figure - often have trouble with normal development, have low self esteem, and do not progress in school. Some develop aggressive behavior patterns. “It depends on the child,” she said.

Boys are much more reluctant to talk about their experiences than are girls, she said, “because sexual abuse doesn't happen to boys.”

In her testimony, she alleged that Ms. Rush performed oral sex on the boy on at least two occasions, once when she had him washing dishes at her home in return for baking him a pan of cupcakes, and another time when she had him cleaning leaves out of her swimming pool. In both cases, she said she had learned from the boy, the teacher was squatting before him and somehow loosened his trousers to perform the impromptu sexual act.

In each case, she testified, the boy said Ms. Rush told him if he told anyone, they would both be in trouble.

On another occasion, she rode behind him on a 4-wheeler and put her hands in his pants as they rode.

“He didn't do well in school because she did not have him perform any school work,” Ms. Timmons alleged.

As a PE teacher, Ms. Rush often had her victim go back inside the building to perform some errand for her. She kept him after school and devised tasks for him to perform at her home. Through manipulation and letting him out of school work, she slowly isolated him from other kids.

In many cases, there is an extensive period of grooming in which the child is slowly isolated from other people and kids of the same age. Look for inappropriate gifts, extravagant and expensive activities, and a heavy dependence on the suspected abuser.

When defense attorney Susan Johnston took over in cross examination, she asked questions such as just how did the woman loosen the 13-year-old boy's trousers, how did she arrange to have sex with him when her children were present in her home, and was it her testimony that all boys who are promiscuous are victims of sexual abuse.

“I don't know that I'm testifying about promiscuous boys,” Ms. Timmons replied.

She asked in reference to the oral sex incidents, “Did he ejaculate?” The therapist's answer was, “I don't know.”

“Would you want to know?”

“Not necessarily.”

The therapist acknowledged in answer to a question that it is true that her patient had actually been depressed for a much longer term than since the time of his alleged molestation by the teacher when he was 13. His biological mother left the family when he was in the second grade. The incident has had a long-term effect similar to that attributed to the alleged crimes of Ms. Rush, she agreed.

Ms. Johnston also obtained her agreement that during her treatment of the boy in 2010, "You were not acting as an interrogator - a detective."

The line of questioning had a visible effect on jurors. They shifted their body language from one of aggressively leaning forward with outraged and quizzical expressions on their faces to leaning back in their seats, their gazes averted as she hammered at the witness and the hearsay testimony.

Ms. Timmons agreed with the lawyer when she made the statement, “Sometimes inappropriate things happen that don't mean anything sexual.”

As the cross examination drew to a close, the attorney asked her if she was aware that the allegations of complaint lodged in 2007 do not match those made during her 2010 treatment of the boy, who is now 18 and has a child of his own.

When prosecutors objected to the question for cause, Judge Strother promptly sustained their objection, and the defense attorney passed the witness.

Here are some warning signs of sexual abuse gleaned from Ms. Timmons' testimony:

* In small children, a regression from efficient toilet habits to a loss of control.

* A sudden loss of interest in school work.

* Obsessive isolation from family, friends and schoolmates.

* Secretive ways around adults. If the perpetrator of the offense is an adult, it was an adult who let the child down; therefore, there is a lack of trust of adults.

* An “outcry” about some ill-defined problem, often just partial in its scope, in which lots of key information is excluded and a lot of questions go unanswered.

* An inability to be in a healthy relationship.

Symptoms include shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, and sometimes aggression toward others, hypervigilance, promiscuity, an avoidance of all sexual contact.

Again, she said, “It depends on the child.”

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